Tag: Hm. Shrouded Village. I’m sure nothing bad will happen there

7.8 – Syntax

The scorched weed stood, accusing, before them.

“Show me what you drew, exactly.” Melja’s voice was more serious than Einarr had ever heard.

Einarr peered at the base of the weed, searching for his mark, but in their haste to stop the blaze it had been obscured. “It was sol, with five points. I will confess that the job was growing tedious, but…”

“Enough. I know what happened now. This is why it is critical to draw each rune with care, each and every time. Sol, drawn with four lines, becomes a pair of kaun, stacked atop each other, if not properly connected.”

Kaun? That’s not one I’ve learned yet.”

“It is not, and that makes this partially my fault. Finish the weeding by hand today. Tomorrow we shall learn kaun, and the day after I will teach you some syntax.”


Einarr felt no great excitement or trepidation over the prospect of learning what Melja termed the “calamatous” rune, although to judge by the elf’s gloomy foreboding after the accident perhaps he should have. Still, he went to the day’s lesson as seriously as he had all the others, with perhaps the added hope of satisfying his curiosity.

The first thing Einarr learned about kaun actually had more to do with syntax than with the rune itself. His rune of warding had failed to contain the fire, and Melja’s had not, because it was his and because he had not drawn it first. Both were of his will, and guarding must always be seen to before destruction. Yet another reason to take extreme care with each inscription.

Furthermore, by doubling the rune as he had, however inadvertantly, he made the fire neither hotter nor more rapacious, but harder to put out. This, of course, would have been nonsense with any ordinary blaze, and Einarr said as much.

“What, of all you have learned these last weeks, has been otherwise?” Melja drawled. “A rune stacked atop itself creates a more durable effect. That is a second reason why your ward was powerless. In another place, or circumstance, that would have been a clever ward, if a simple one.”

Einarr pursed his lips, less pleased by the praise than he would have been on any earlier day. “Another place?”

“Yes, another circumstance.”

“But that’s not what you said. You said another place, like if I’d been foolish enough to make that error on board a ship my ward might have worked.”

Melja sighed. “Yes. Yes, it might have. Because of the Shroud, you see?”

“No, I don’t see. What is the Shroud? Why is this the Shrouded Village?” The perfect opportunity for the questions that had been gnawing at him since his arrival. There would never be a better opportunity to insist on some answers.

Melja gathered himself up as though to rebuke Einarr. He stared imperiously down at him for a long moment before appearing to deflate. “No, I really do have to answer that now, I suppose,” he muttered.

Einarr just looked at him, expectant.

“Very well. The Shroud has not been relevant to our students in a very long time. Most are too incurious to even ask about the name, most of the rest let themselves be put off. But, I suppose there are reasons you were named a Cursebreaker. The Shroud is not what binds our village to Midgardr, but it is why we are bound here. It is also why we stress caution in dealing with the kaun rune. —There will, incidentally, be no practice tonight.”

Einarr nodded, eager to be past the expected revelation.

“The Shroud has not been active for a very long time, thanks in no small part to this village. We are still watching for signs, but I do not believe your… misadventure yesterday awoke it, either.”

At that Einarr raised an eyebrow, but kept silent. He had no intention of interrupting, not over such a minor overstatement.

“The Shroud… reacts to the use of the kaun rune. Violently. No one is sure exactly why. But when it does, nothing is safe from its wrath. This village does not exist to teach runes: it exists to guard the Shroud.”

Einarr frowned. “So, what happens when kaun is invoked away from the island?” He was certain he had seen that shape before – at the Tower of Ravens, he thought.

“Oh, the effect is reduced, somewhat. We think there is some distance past which it doesn’t matter, but we’ve never had a good way of figuring that out – not that didn’t involve deliberately trying to awake the thing.”

So. Either those kaun runes in the tower didn’t matter at all, or every time some fool tried it they risked – what, exactly? Somehow, though, he couldn’t see such a concern stopping Wotan from defending his tower as he pleased.

Which meant that, even here, Einarr was about to be neck-deep in a curse of some kind. With a sigh, he asked the only question that mattered just then: “What does the Shroud do?”

“It consumes. Such is the nature of fire, after all.”


Training, after that, went on as usual. The village continued to keep a wary eye on the Shroud, but no more was said to Einarr after he had been taught of the rune and its existence. Einarr now knew all but a handful of the single runes, and the first rudiments of combining them. And it had only been a month.

He wanted to be pleased with his progress, but the existence of an item like the Shroud, so close to him with his accursed Calling, made him uneasy. So it was with resignation more than any great surprise that he greeted the news, at the end of that month, that the Shroud was stirring.

Only stirring, Melja said, as though Einarr’s very presence did not portend disaster there. It was decided: the next day’s lesson would be on wards, and Einarr would learn to reinforce the ones set on the Shroud.


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7.4 – Farewells

With some reluctance, the Matrons of the Conclave invited in the alfr calling himself ‘friend’ to sit in their hall and discuss the matter. They were very specific as to the terms of the invitation – so much so that Einarr questioned Saetild’s assertion that he was merely a good-natured pest.

There was a comfortable rug spread on the floor near the hearth, where on cold winter evenings Einarr could imagine the old Matrons gathering to work their nalbinding and discuss business. Only one of these was happening that afternoon, with the golden-haired alfr standing in the middle of the plush fur and addressing the rest of them.

“Some time ago, I visited a village on an isle far to the west of here. I’ll not bore you with all the gory details of my trip, but I learned while I was there that many of the best elven rune-smiths had learned their craft there. It would be intensive training, but they might just be able to get you a basic working knowledge by the end of the summer.”

Einarr drew his brows down. “That takes me away from the Vidofnir for longer than I like…”

Some of the Matrons snorted, as though repressing laughter.

“My dear boy, some of the most brilliant alfish minds have taken years—”

Einarr held up a hand and shook his head. “I know, I know. The cost of learning is time.”

“On the subject of costs,” broke in the Matron who always reminded Einarr of an oak tree. “What price do they demand?”

“Hard labor, for the term of Einarr’s stay in the Shrouded Village.”

The oaken Matron drew down her brows now. “And what price do you ask?”

Ystävä smiled beatifically. “Oh, I am only too happy to help. You see, the favor he owes me requires the recovery of the Örlögnir, but will be greatly aided by a working knowledge of runes.”

To a woman the Matrons looked skeptical.

Ystävä went on, blithely unconcerned. “Besides, in this case the village elder will be paying me a finder’s fee. They have fewer pupils now than they’re used to.”

Einarr’s laugh came out like a bark. He was surprised to hear Saetild’s musical laugh join in.

“Perhaps you aren’t the mercenary I took you for after all,” she chuckled.

“I am exactly as I have always called myself.” The alfr didn’t quite manage to look offended, although he put on a good show of it.

“Be that as it may,” Einarr said, breaking in. “I’ve no objection to working for my supper, and on the whole this sounds like my best option. Only… how am I supposed to find this place, with only the name of a village to go by? And how do I rejoin my ship again at the end of it?”

“Well that, my boy, is the easy part. I am presuming, however, that you have arrangements to make before I whisk you off into parts unknown for the next few months.”

***

Two days later, at dawn, all was in readiness. Stigander, Jorir, and Runa hiked out to the edge of the Whispering Wood with Einarr to see him off. It was a cool morning, and streaks of cloud scudded across the lightening sky as they neared the waypoint.

“You’re sure I can’t convince you to keep on with us?” Stigander’s voice said he knew the answer to that question, but his pride required him to ask one more time anyway.

“You know I have to do this, Father. So many times since we left Attilsund, where the Oracle herself lamented my ignorance, I’ve run up against issues I needed runelore to solve. I’m not always going to have Reki or Runa to save me, after all. Besides, what the Vidofnir needs is to rebuild her crew and get some nice, healthy hauls, not be dragged into whatever weirdness my Calling manages to find next. I’ll meet up with you in the fall, at Kjell.”

Stigander nodded and clapped his son on the shoulder. They stood there a moment before Stigander threw reserve to the wind and embraced his son. “Be careful out there.”

“I will, Father. I’m looking forward to meeting the new crew when I come back.” He took a step back as Stigander’s arms loosened about his shoulders and turned his attention to Jorir.

“Are ye sure ye’d rather not have me along?”

Einarr laughed. “Would that I could. Even if Ystävä could take us both, though, and he was adamant he couldn’t, there’s something I need you to do for me.”

“Is it about that lad Arkja?”

Einarr nodded. “I’d planned on taking the summer to test his mettle, but obviously I can’t now. So I need you, and Vali if he doesn’t suddenly appear under my feet again, to make sure he’s someone I can take into my service without worry.”

“I would even if you hadn’t asked.”

“Thank you.” He thrust out his hand to the dwarf, who clasped it in a hearty handshake.

That only left Runa, who stood back a little from the others, looking half worried and half proud. He smiled at her. “Runa. Of all the faces I shall miss, yours looms largest.”

She nodded, then rushed forward to fling herself into his arms, and he held her close, inhaling her scent. “This is a wonderful thing you do,” she said into his chest. “Only, return to me safe when the season is over.”

“I will,” he murmured. “I will.” They’d had this exact conversation the night before, truth be told, but Einarr would not begrudge Runa another minute, or the one after that.

A throat cleared from behind him, towards the edge of the Wood. “This is all very touching,” Ystävä said. “But I’m afraid we must be going.”

Reluctantly Einarr lowered his arms, and reluctantly Runa stepped away from him. He shouldered his sack of belongings and turned to face the alfr. “I am ready.”


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If you’re all caught up and looking for something a little longer to read, I also have other works available on Amazon.Or, if you happen to not like Amazon you can also get the Einarr ebook through Draft2Digital, B&N, Apple, Kobo… you get the idea. Direct links are available here.

Lastly, if you really like what I’m doing, I also have a Patreon account running with some fun bonuses available.